WASHINGTON — Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a presidential hopeful, questioned Atty. Gen. Janet Reno on Tuesday about the government's role in the Branch Davidian disaster in Texas.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Specter questioned the FBI's tear-gassing of the cult compound near Waco just before it burned to the ground in 1993. The two-month siege in which four federal agents and about 90 cult members died has become a rallying cause for armed militias and other right-wing groups.
"Were you aware at the time that you authorized the use of the . . . gas that it had been banned by the Paris chemical weapons convention?" asked Specter.
There was an exception to that treaty for law enforcement purposes, Reno responded.
She said that when the FBI raised the possibility of using the gas, she asked: "What about the children? What about elderly people? What effect would this have? Would this have a permanent effect on anyone?" She said a civilian Army expert "concluded that it would not have a permanent effect."
Reno said she has asked the FBI "to do everything they can to pursue all lines of inquiry to indicate if the gas might be harmful, so that we can understand in future situations if there is any new information that should be considered."